A former member of the New York State Senate has spoken of his “gratitude and joy” after the Austrian woman who saved his life in the Shoah was honoured as Righteous Amongst the Nations at a ceremony in London.
Vienna-born Franz S. Leichter, who arrived in America in 1940 as a refugee joined the family of Irma Turnsek at the event at Israel’s Embassy in London.
Turnsek, who worked as a housekeeper for Franz’s parents, smuggled Franz out of the country by passing him off as her own child. She was only reunited with her own son Helmut two years after the war ended.
Franz told the Jewish News: “I’m filled with gratitude and joy and also sorrow that we’ve been able to get this recognition for Irma after all these years. It’s wonderful that her courage is being recognised and unfortunate that her son, Helmut, whose identity I took to get out of Austria is not here to participate in this event. But I’m very grateful that we are able to achieve it and thank Yad Vashem for the recognition and the Israeli Embassy in London for hosting this memorial event.”
Leichter, whose mother was killed in the Holocaust, added: “It was so meaningful to have my children and two of my grandchildren to be here with me for the event and to realise that their existence also depended on Irma’s courage.”
The title Righteous Among the Nations is awarded to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust, on behalf of the Israel, Yad Vashem and the Jewish people.
The ceremony last Thursday was attended by Sir Eric Pickles MP, the prime minister’s envoy of post-Holocaust issues, Israel’s acting Ambassador to the UK, Eitan Na’Eh, and the Austrian Ambassador.
Na’eh said: “Even in the bad times we can still occasionally find points of light and Irma’s story shines particularly brightly as one of them. Thank you on behalf of the state of Israel and myself personally.”